The movie ‘The Elephant Man’ tells the true story of John Merrick who, almost from birth, experienced massive rejection due to his grotesque appearance. Merrick suffered abnormalities that resulted in a large and severely misshapen head, loose, rough skin, and twisted arms and legs. He was mistreated and abused by his stepmother and father and eventually, sold himself to different carnivals across different countries so people could line up to watch him, like any other animal. His entire life was a string of rejection after rejection until eventually, a doctor found him, raised funds for him and helped him. At one point in his life, Merrick met a woman who simply came into his room, smiled and shook his hand, which no woman in his life could do besides his biological mother. This marked a break-through in his life until more and more women could do this and show him kindness.
The reason for mentioning this story is to remind us that:
- Firstly, we can all relate to both sides of this story – we have been the ones to reject others AND we have been rejected.
- Secondly, to question why we ourselves don’t make the same excuses for those whom we often judge. Remember that homeless man who asked you for spare change, but you lied and said you were all out because you were certain that he’s going to spend the money on alcohol? Or that girl who walks past with revealing clothes and you label her based on that 3 second snapshot? Why can’t we make excuses for those whose problems aren’t as visible as Merrick’s?
- Thirdly, let us take a moment to just think about the ways we judge others and…why?
To shed some light on the points mentioned, let’s first agree that judging really does help us to de-clutter this world, to an extent, although it may not be the Christian approach. How so? Well, we need to categorise and label things mentally to help us digest this world because our senses are stimulated every second. Interestingly, the field of social psychology has named this ‘Judgment Heuristics‘. Isn’t that sad? Or does it just make it excusable? But it seems to be a benign crime, right? Well no, in fact the Bible teaches us abundantly how inexcusable it is and how far from benign it is as we violate our purpose as humans, as we take on the role of God. St Paul reminds us in his epistle to the Romans saying, “Therefore, you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things” (Romans 2:1).
Most importantly, from this verse, we can extract that BOTH righteous and unrighteous people will experience judgement because plainly, those who judge and criticise should not be surprised when one does the same to them as we all “practice the same things”.
Pope Shenouda III, in his lesson, ‘Judge Not Others‘, lists many forms of judgment, with the most common being the judgement of the tongue, which has various kinds including:
- BACKBITING: speaking in the absence of someone. This is harmful because the person that is being spoken about has no chance to defend himself.
- SLANDER: defaming others, revealing their faults or ascribing faults to them. This, Pope Shenouda refers to as a disease, because it spreads. He explains, “Whenever they find nothing useful to speak about, they make of the peoples’ bad news a favourite material of their talk“.
- CONDEMNATION: judging a person as guilty. There is a difference between partial condemnation and whole condemnation. For example, saying someone is a liar in a certain situation is different to saying that he or she is consistently a liar. So, this point can be thought of as overgeneralising.
And so, Merrick’s story shows us the power of love and acceptance. His life was made tragic not by his deformities but by the response people made to them which is exactly why we need to love. A smile and a shake of someone’s hand may be all they need to feel accepted which is the epitome of Christianity.
Finally, some take-home messages:
- Father Anthony Messeh, a Coptic Orthodox Priest in Washington, reminds us to thank God for the grace He has given you. So, when we see others with weaknesses that you don’t have, rather than judging, first and lastly, thank God that He has given you grace in that area.
- Don’t make religion an excuse to judge. I got insight from an atheist friend who said that she felt that religion caused people to judge and I think many of us are guilty of instilling this thought into others’ minds. So, the next time we meet someone who isn’t fasting like us, let’s remember that our fasting and prayer life is between us and God.
- An exercise I think we could all practice is when we may be tempted to judge, instead, put on the lenses of righteousness and imagine what that person has achieved in life or maybe what talents they may possess.
To finish off, always have that one verse from the Bible that you live and breathe and can remember off-by-heart. This one really sums up our blessed role as God’s children should really treat one another, refraining from judgement and evil:
“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tender-hearted, be courteous”
(1 Peter 3:8)
SAYG ~ Rochelle Tadros.